The Yonge Street Mission's Evergreen Centre location. Tosin Maiyegun/THE VARSITY

In response to controversy over the Yonge Street Mission’s (YSM) recent decision to relocate its Evergreen Centre for Street Youth to 365–367 Spadina Avenue, the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) executive has written a letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory supporting the move.

Several community organizations, most notably the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA), have protested the move out of concern that the centre will bring loiterers to the area. Those who are against the relocation also claim that the centre and its programs are unnecessary in Chinatown because they, as BIA member Tonny Louie told the Toronto Star, “don’t need any more grit.”   

Locals against the relocation have taken to plastering their businesses with posters that read “No YSM here!” They also claim not to have been consulted prior to the YSM’s purchase of the Spadina property, a charge denied by YSM President and CEO Angie Draskovic. Draskovic told CBC’s Metro Morning that the centre has had discussions with over 150 stakeholders about the move. Those against the move have submitted a petition to Tory’s office.

Given ASSU’s history of social justice advocacy, the executive decided to write a letter in support of the YSM. “As students at the University of Toronto, our community and home is not just the campus, but our community at large,” said ASSU president Abudullah Shihipar. “It is in this spirit that after seeing the uproar surrounding the relocation of the Yonge Street Mission that the ASSU executive decided to write a letter.”

The letter refutes the notion that a centre dedicated to assisting marginalized youth in the area is unnecessary. The letter highlights the fact that many university students in the neighbourhood live on a shoestring budget and are dependent on shelters and food banks. 

The ASSU also expressed concern that municipal budget cuts have resulted in the recent closures of shelters such as Second Base Youth Shelter and Hope Shelter. According to the union, these budget cuts are part of a disturbing trend that will deny services to those experiencing homelessness and those living in poverty. The letter ends with an exhortation to halt the cuts and will be delivered to the Mayor’s office next Thursday.

“Students can help out by writing to their elected representatives, writing articles, raising awareness and participating in protests,” said Shihipar, adding, “Public pressure is key to ensuring that our elected representatives pursue anti-homeless and anti-poverty strategies.”

Plans for YSM relocation remain on track for Street Youth in fall 2017.

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